"We'll always have Paris." Those iconic words uttered by Bogart to Bergman in "Casablanca" so many years ago are just as true and meaningful today. Maybe even more so. You see, recently Bertrand Delanoe, the mayor of Paris, has created something called Paris Tourist Day, meant to encourage Parisians to adopt a more cordial view of tourists.
Launched a few years ago -- and acknowledging that an estimated two million jobs here are linked to tourism -- this project looks to become a regular fixture. This lesson in Parisian etiquette includes the vow to take the time to give information to visitors and to attempt to reply to them in their own language. Merci!
A Cimetiere Extraordinaire
On a recent visit to Paris, I came with a check list of all the "must-dos" that I hadn't done in the past. At the top of this list was to visit a cemetery. No, not just any cemetery, the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, with its starry lineup of illustrious corpses, the celebrity resting place in Paris. My visit, surprisingly, had a touch of romantic history to it because I visited the graves of old-timers such as Delacroix, Proust and Bizet, as well as the more recent dearly departed Jim Morrison, and that famous love duo: Simone Signoret and Yves Montand. Here since the 1790s, Pere Lachaise was designed as a public park and still today is a green and pleasant, albeit somewhat somber, place to wander. With the help of a map supplied upon entering, one can check out the sites of almost anyone French, talented and dead. They're all here.
Bubbles in a Glass of Champagne
That evening, local friends, knowing my love for glamour, luxury and the great American songbook, suggested we visit the very elegant Georges V Hotel. An acquaintance of theirs, Flavien Compagnon, sings and plays piano in the Georges V cocktail lounge, and, turns out, the entertainer's love of Cole Porter and George Gershwin matched mine exactly. Sitting on a burgundy velvet banquet, sipping some bubbly, the room low-lit by crystal chandeliers and fragrant votives and with floor to ceiling windows giving onto a perfect formal garden in the distance, it was a pinch-myself, dreamy moment.
Twinkle, Twinkle Eiffel Tower
Departing this grand hotel, my friends had a perfect nightcap idea to end the evening: a visit to La Tour Eiffel. We timed it just right. Moments after we arrived at this most iconic symbol of Paris, the Tower began to do its thing, The Great Eiffel Tower Light-Up! Back on New Year's Eve, 1999 to mark the new millennium, 20,000 light bulbs were added to the tower and illuminated. And because we all like things that sparkle, the tower continues to be lit up every night for 10 minutes. We watched as this grand structure came alive, twinkling and dancing before our eyes! The Eiffel Tower became something magical to behold. Ever since its appearance on the Parisian skyline in 1889, the Eiffel Tower has drawn both criticism and praise. Guy de Maupassant called it a giant and disgraceful skeleton while Paul Gauguin hailed it as a "triumph of iron." I second old Paul's sentiment.
Going In Seine
Another day I took a Bateaux Mouches cruise on the Seine at twilight when the sky was pale mauve turning to shell pink. The lights were coming up all over the city, and each monument was bathed in its own special glow. No matter how many times you take this romantic meander down the Seine, slipping silently under Paris' 37 bridges, gazing up at the Notre Dame Cathedral and gawking at the stately, exclusive residences on the Ile St. Louis, it never fails to thrill.
Field of Dreams
The Champs Elysees remains a symbolic gathering place, from July 14 Bastille Day celebrations to New Year's Eve displays, not to mention the joy of sitting at one of its sidewalk cafes, aperitif in hand, simply people-watching. I stayed around the corner from the Champs at the Hotel Marignan, a peaceful haven in the heart of this bustling business and fashion center. This property has a cozy, romantic feel, with an added plus: Alain Ducasse's Restaurant Spoon is on the hotel's site, serving a light and inspired menu from all corners of the globe.
One of the coolest and most colorful neighborhoods is Montparnasse with its good-time feel which recalls the area's artistic heyday of the 1920s and '30s. Bars, restaurants and cinemas abound, and it was here on August 25, 1944 that the liberation of Paris took place. My stay in this environ was made all the more pleasant by checking into Hotel Le Littre. Consisting of just 90 guest rooms with views of either the charming rue Littre or their quiet courtyard, the property is equipped with all the up-to-date features you'll need to be totally comfortable.
Yes You Can Can
What is a trip to Paris without visiting the neighborhood of Montmartre and experiencing the touristy but oh so fun show at the Moulin Rouge? This world-famous nightclub opened its doors in 1889. The show that I saw was not dissimilar from what you might see in Las Vegas with one delightful exception: this is, after all, the place where the French Cancan was born over a hundred years ago, and today the Cancan still ends each show. I can report that their end, if you will, is quite saucy and tres French. The 60 Doriss girls give it their all: Throughout the performance, they continually send amorous, passionate glances out to the gentleman in the audience, signaling that they sure Can!
It reminded me that Valentine's Day will soon be here -- and to be sure, the French do that day right. A long-ago holiday custom that is now illegal was called "Une loterie d'amour," where single men and women would enter houses that faced opposite each other for the purpose of pairing off. If a man was not particularly happy with his chosen partner, he'd simply leave the undesirable match for another mate. After the pairing off was finished, women who were left single built a large ceremonial bonfire and burned images of men who'd hurt them. During this ritual, the women would also yell abusive remarks at the men. Most undignified, non? Is it any wonder that this custom has since been banned? Today the holiday is considerably more reserved and, as in many other countries, the French simply exchange small gifts, bouquets of flowers, words of affection and perhaps spend a glamorous night on the town.
To be sure, Valentine's Day connotes romance, and no other city in the world embodies this concept more than Paris. Its beauty is a seductive backdrop to start a "dangerous liaison" or to rekindle the magic of the past. That was, I'm sure, the inspiration for those memorable last words in "Casablanca." My brilliant visit to the city of love is with me still, and yes, I will always have Paris.